When I was living in Montréal, I attended a dinner party hosted by a friend who was housesitting for his thesis supervisor. He made mussels while three of us guests – myself, Kerry, and Janet – snooped around the professor’s place in wonder. Kerry and I invented a game that we emphatically pitched to the group: everyone was to go around the living room and silently choose their favourite object among the furniture and accents. Then we would guess at each other’s selections. The living room was full of knick-knacks, including a Québec Writers’ Federation award that was made of paper arranged to resemble a book. Janet was absolutely insulted by the “trophy.” Being a writer is so HUMILIATING! she said.
Nobody at the dinner party wanted to play our game. Meanwhile, Kerry and I found we were very good at guessing each other’s favourite objects. We had the same eclectic taste, and on my last day in the city, we ventured north to Saint-Michel for a flea market. The next morning, Kerry pulled up to my apartment with a dinosaur-themed Father’s Day card and the same turquoise ring I’d been ogling at the market the day before. Inside the card, she wrote: À Bientôt.
Perhaps my dad’s most treasured object: our firepit.
We have lugged it from the old house, but in our tiny new backyard, there’s no room for a legal fire. Dad’s plan is to have one anyway. We sit on opposite sides of the flame, him launching into a spirited lecture about the different kinds of firewood, accusing the gas station stuff of burning too loudly and giving off too much of a smell. The kind he buys, my dad tells me, is birch – you get a clean burn with birch.
A spark shoots out from the pit, landing on his shorts. It melts a sizeable hole in the athletic fabric of them. The fire picks up then, sparks racing down the corridor connecting our backyard to the neighbour’s. I start to wonder at my dad’s confidence, competence; he glances nervously in the direction of the growing flame.
Dad thinks God is punishing him for breaking the rules. As soon as he gives voice to this thought, the fire settles down. He says, staring into the pit: “But three logs are good enough. You don’t need more logs than that. You wouldn’t want more logs than that.”
I go inside to make popcorn. When I return to the fire, it’s raining. My dad sits in it for a stoic minute, but as it starts to pour, he leaps from his lawn chair, declares, “I have no luck!” and proceeds to pack up for the night.
No sooner have we moved indoors than he looks out the window and says, “We’ll see if it gives up in a minute, then we can go back out.”
My dad learns best from books. Each book is a treasure for the three weeks he borrows it from the library. He lends me a girthy hardcover titled Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention. He tells me I should read chapter two. The book is due back tomorrow, but he says to hang onto it until I’m done. He doesn’t care about the late fees, about what my leisurely pace will cost him.
In my unemployment, I have taken to sitting outside in this mid-September sun, reading as much as I can. I don’t know this pleasure’s expiration date, only that it will end with either work or winter. Books, for now, pile up on my bedside table. They assert themselves as treasured objects: Look at us! We deserve this title. Please – can’t we all just be special?